H&M should rethink its CGI models

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Hot on the heels of the Advertising Association’s report into airbrushing in ads, H&M is coming under fire for opting to use completely computer generated images of women rather than real models to advertise its clothing online.

The retailer has digitally fabricated a woman’s body and then adds on a model’s face, adapts the skin colour accordingly and digitally adds the clothes.
Maybe this was obvious to people that have used H&M’s online site, but as I haven’t the news unnerves me.

Scrolling through H&M’s online ecommerce site you see the same “models” popping up again and again with different faces in different outfits. The uniform body shape becomes eerie – even more so when you know that it isn’t even real to start with – it’s an idealised and unrealistic body shape for most women.

It’s obviously not the intention, it’s more a cost and time saving strategy to get its products online for ecommerce, but at a time when advertising images are being scrutinised and their impact on women’s body image analysed, it sends the message that real women aren’t good enough. And that is offensive.

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At a time when the government and advertising industry are trying to move away from airbrushing and images that paint an unhealthy and unrealistic picture of how women’s bodies actually look, it’s ill-advised that a retailer like H&M, which has more than 2,300 stores world wide, and targets mainly young women and girls, would choose an approach that is so demeaning to real women.

How is a young H&M customer meant to feel looking at an image of a woman that isn’t even real, and comparing herself? It’s a step away from using Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft character as an ideal clothing model.

H&M has a responsibility, like all retailers and brands, to get real and give its customers some credit by showing them that they are good enough for its products. That its clothes will make them look and feel good in the real world.

The Advertising Association and Credos report Pretty as a Picture released this week, found that the majority of women actually prefer “natural” looking women that haven’t been altered by the art team, and that they trust brands that use airbrushing techniques to change the way models look in ads less than those that don’t.

The chain says: “It is regrettable if we have led anyone to believe that the virtual mannequins should be real bodies, which is incorrect and have never been our intention. We will continue to discuss internally how we can be clearer about this in the information towards our customers.”

Perhaps it wouldn’t be in such hot water if the “virtual mannequins” it uses were a little more natural looking, a little more varied in shape and size and a little less Barbie like.

From a commercial stance, how can H&M think this strategy is good enough for its ecommerce platform? When buying online, consumers need to feel confident about the product they are buying – if they haven’t even seen how it looks on a real body, how can they make an informed buying decision? It can only lead to high levels of dissatisfaction from customers.

H&M’s ecommerce platform is less than a year old, but compare this to Asos.com, which uses photographs of real models for its online product shots, and also offers a short catwalk video of the item being worn. This odd CGI technique demonstrates that it has the balance wrong and isn’t investing in the customer experience at all.

If H&M can’t even be bothered to take photos of its products on models, let alone offer additional content to enhance the online customers experience, it can’t expect to seriously compete online.

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